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Jack MacLaren says he's more careful after sensitivity training

An eastern Ontario MPP who was asked to take sensitivity training instead of being at Queen's Park after telling a controversial joke says he's learned a lot.

Carleton-Mississippi Mills PC MPP asked to stay away from Queen's Park by leader last month

Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren talks to a crowd of around 190 supporters at an event in Kanata Saturday, May 28, 2016. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

An eastern Ontario MPP who was asked to take sensitivity training instead of being at Queen's Park after telling a controversial joke says he's learned a lot about how to be more careful.

Jack MacLaren was at a "men's night" fundraiser in his riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills in March when he told a sexual joke about Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon and her husband.

When that came to light, along with fake endorsements on his website, Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown demoted MacLaren from his role as the regional representative in the party's caucus, then asked him to stay away from Queen's Park so he could take sensitivity training.

MacLaren said Saturday night at an event organized by his supporters he's finished that training and it was a "positive experience."

"I must admit I did have things to learn and I did learn something from it: that we have be more conscious of the things we say and that sometimes inadvertently we can say words that might offend someone even when no intention to offend is met," he said.

"I learned a lot from it."

Learned about jokes

MacLaren, first elected in 2011, said the training included examples of what's appropriate and inappropriate to say around different groups of people.

Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren says people his age can still have a lot to learn about what's appropriate. (CBC)

He said he'll now choose his words more carefully and be more considerate.

"Jokes in particular can be taken the wrong way by some people," he said.

"Even though they're meant in good humour and good fun and not meant with any sense of hurt, a joke can be taken the wrong way, so we have to be very conscious of who we're speaking to and be confident the audience would receive a joke with the way it was intended."

MacLaren went on to give 15 minute speech about acceptance and diversity to a crowd of just under 200 people at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute in Kanata, saying also he'll be running again next provincial election.

He wouldn't say when he'll be back at Queen's Park, just that "it's sooner now than it was a few weeks ago."

'Blown out of proportion'

The "Sticks and Stones: An Evening of Support" event was organized by a group of friends and supporters, including JoAnne Cooney, who said that night in Carp didn't show the MacLaren she knows.

"I've known and worked with him on different projects over the years and he's always been incredibly respectful, professional and supportive, especially me as a young woman," she said.

Cooney said she sees a "night and day" difference in MacLaren since his training — pointing out he wrote a speech instead of speaking without notes — and wouldn't have been involved in the event if she didn't think he was taking change seriously.

"I think it was just something that got blown out of proportion. A lot," she said.

"Jack has apologized, he's gone on training, he's been demoted. I don't want to downplay it, as a woman I would have been very uncomfortable to have been in that situation, but I also believe in forgiveness, that people change and learn and grow."

JoAnne Cooney says she called MacLaren with the offer to put on this 'Sticks & Stones' night of support. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Others at the event, also a fundraiser for Fort McMurray fire relief, said they didn't have an issue with his comments in the first place.

"I just love the man, he's just fantastic," said Grace Jourbarne. "If we were all blessed with an MPP like him we wouldn't be in this state in Ontario."

Jourbarne chalked the controversy up to an agenda by media and other politicians.

"It was just a joke and in the context of why he was invited there, it wasn't inappropriate at all," she said.

"We all tell jokes, we all think something we're saying is funny at some time or another when other people might not think it's funny but hardly anybody takes it upon themselves to put it in the newspaper and make it such a big deal. I think it reflects more on the character of the people who couldn't possibly overlook a little faux pas."

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